If some of our earliest memories of food are shaped by eating it, then plenty more are informed by the act of reading about it. After devouring Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, what child could look at a slice of toast without imagining the bread-dough airplane piloted by the book’s protagonist? Or eat blueberries without thinking of the hungry heroine of Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal? Or approach pork products without imagining them in an unnatural shade of green, served alongside some eggs?
So without further ado, here’s our picks for the 10 best food-themed children’s books. And, of course, if we missed your own favorite(s), let us know in the comments section.
10. Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban, 1964: Frances is a little badger who only wants to eat bread and jam. So her parents let her, until Frances finally sings “What I am/Is sick of jam.”
9. The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story, by Lemony Snicket, 2007: A potato pancake starts screaming the moment it hits the frying pan. It leaps out and proceeds to try to explain its role in Hanukkah to such gentile holiday icons as a candy cane and flashing colored lights.
8. Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1933: The second book in the Little House on the Prairie series tells the story of Almanzo, a boy who spends his days on his family’s farm milking cows, feeding livestock, and planting and tending crops. Though it’s not about food specifically, the subject informs just about every activity that takes place in the book.
7. Strega Nona, by Tomie dePaola, 1979: The story of an old lady and her enchanted pasta pot, which floods the town with noodles after it’s misappropriated by the clumsy houseboy Strega Nona has hired to do her chores.
6. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle, 1969: The caterpillar eats his way through, among other things, pears, plums, strawberries, oranges, pickles, Swiss cheese, and salami, and then disappears into a cocoon and re-emerges as a butterfly.
5. Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey, 1948: A little girl named Sal and her mother go up a hill to pick blueberries for the winter. On the other side of the hill, a mother bear and her cub have the same idea; both Sal and the cub wander off to eat blueberries, and each end up following the wrong mother.
4. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak, 1970: The tale of Mickey, a little boy who floats naked into the surreal world of a noctural kitchen where he’s enlisted to help the bakers make a cake by sunrise. Thanks to Sendak’s decision to leave Mickey unclothed, this book has actually been banned in numerous libraries.
3. Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss, 1960: “I would not eat green eggs and ham/I do not like them, Sam-I-am.”
2. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, by Judi Barrett, 1978: There are no grocery stores in the town of Chewandswallow. Instead, it rains juice and soup, snows mashed potatoes, and the wind carries hamburgers. But when the town is flooded with food, its inhabitants set sail in bread boats for a place where the weather doesn’t bring meals.
1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl, 1964: The name pretty much says it all. Few and far between are the children who remain unacquainted with Violet Beauregarde and her gum, marauding Oompa Loompas, and the wonderful, agreeably sinister Willy Wonka.
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 23, 2010